Simulation 14, Part 1

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I miss him.”

* * *

The bowl shatters across the wall and sends porcelain shards and noodles in a cascade against the tile. Each piece, as it flies away and begins falling to the floor disintegrates into nothingness as it gets further from Jeanette, as if it is falling away into pixels. She doesn’t see that though, or notice it. It’s not a part of the memory; it’s part of what’s left of it.

“How could you fuck her? How could you do that to me?”

He’s looking at her from across the counter, his eyes full of a rage as vivid as the one she feels. She knows there will be hell to pay for the broken bowl but the time for that is later. She also knows that if she doesn’t express her anger somehow now there will be much more than broken bowls tomorrow.

“It just happened. You were gone and–”

Her hands fly from the counter where she’d rested them and she pulls her eyes away from him to look out the window behind her. There is no landscape outside but her eyes don’t tell her that, only that this is what she sees. A featureless landscape of a color that is less than white and more than nothing.

“I was gone for a week! While I was telling my mother how much I cared about you, you were fucking her! You were inside her and I was gushing over how in love we are. How is that okay?”

“Look, I know. It’s not okay but you have to understand.”

She looks at him then and she sees that he’s crying. She sees that his knuckles are white against the pale brown counter as he clutches the edge and she’s no longer sure who carries more rage or desperation.

She reaches across the counter to touch his fingers.

* * *

His hand is like a white hot iron across her face and as her head cocks sideways she can feel the imprint of each fingertip across her cheek and know that there will be an outline there tomorrow. The skin stings and burns where his hand has left her face but the pain of the second slap is far worse.

“Baby!”

The words are more squeak than a voice as they come out but they’re drowned out by the smack of his palm on her cheek again. She can feel him pulsing inside her with each contact and each searing spasm means she can feel herself contract around him.

“That’s too hard. Please. . .”

She presses her knees to his sides as hard as she can as she rides him and starts to squirm from the pain. The tear of her bottom lip leaves a streak of red across his palm and she sees the blood as his hands reach to her hips and pull her down harder on him, lifting her and bouncing her body off of him.

“No.”

And then she’s on her back and he’s holding her down. His giant hand is wrapped around her wrists above her head and his body is on top of her, pushing against her. His other hand wraps around her neck and starts to squeeze as he pounds into her, pushing her head against the wall as she chokes under his fingers.

* * *

Each drop of blood that falls from his fingers seems to be accompanied by a tear falling from his eyes but not a single drop of fluid touches the ground, instead seeming to disappear. Each splotch, red or clear, never forms on her dress or on the floor but Jeanette neither notices it or sees it. That’s not part of the memory. It’s part of what is left of it.

“Baby, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I made you so angry.”

“My hand. . .”

His hand is a mangled mess and around them on the floor she can see the shards of the mirror. Small slivers are stuck in his knuckles and she turns his hand over in her own, examining it. The wounds are shallow and it doesn’t seem broken.

“I’m so sorry baby, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I didn’t mean to do it. . .”

She wraps her arms around him and gently pulls his injured hand behind her as she does. His body is wider than her own but she manages to surround him and his head falls against her shoulder and begins to weep.

Each of his tears soak into the sleeve of her top accompanied by her voice.

“It’s okay. It’s all going to be okay.

* * *

How can you say that? After he hurt you so much.”

But that’s is. When he hurt me was the only time I felt real.”

. . . Terminate Simulation 14 . . .

Bundts and Bolts, Part 1

bernicons            Bundts and Bolts is the name of the bakery downtown that’s been getting a lot of hype lately. It almost went out of business not two years ago, back when it was known as No Bundts About It when some cyber chick freaked out when she found an actual lug nut in the cupcake. Everyone else found it to be hilarious but the cyber community freaked the fuck out. The owners almost went bankrupt with the legal fees. Yet, somehow, they pulled out of that shitstorm and were now the talk of the town. People line up around the block for an over-priced mini cupcake. They renamed the place to the aforementioned establishment as a not-so-subtle screw you to the cybers that wanted the place shut down.

So why do I even care, you ask? Why am I trying to break into the kitchen at Bundts and Bolts? I need a small cake for my little sister’s birthday. It’s already 4pm and there’s no way I’d get something if I went to the back of the line now. Even then you’re more likely to see me lick a pastor’s boot than see me pay over $60 for cake. I told Clare that I could get her a much bigger cake from the corner store and she could eat at least twice as much but I knew what she was thinking. She passes the bakery everyday on her way to school and all her classmates talk about having been there for a home-made, old fashioned, artisan crafted-bullshit, confectionary treat, everyone but her. I can’t afford to get Clare much, I can barely afford the studio we live in, but I can snag a cake for her. It’s what I do best after all. Yeah, okay, people don’t like thieves, but if that bitch with the moped wanted to keep the damned thing, she should have tried harder.

Across the street from Bunts and Bolts I see a group of cybers sneering at the place. One of them’s got a robo third eye embedded into the middle of her forehead with e blinking bindi  between her eyes. Flannel shirts, fake flowers braided into their hair and beards, listening to music from a dubstep group you know you’ve never heard a song from. All three of the lady’s eyes stare me down as I walk into the back alley behind them. I swear, if Clare ever comes home asking for some kind of cyber augmentation I will personally move us out into the country and get us as off the grid as we can get… okay not really. No one lives in the sticks but new-age hippies with gardens for front yards who then complain if someone like me takes an eggplant…

Out of sight, out of mind. I climb up the fire escape to get a lay of the land as I continue across the power lines toward Bolts, it’s cool, nobody ever looks up anymore so nobody even sees me. At a glance, the place looks pretty under-secured but at a closer look… it’s exactly like. I’m really surprised actually, you’d think that they’d have this place locked up a little tighter. A lot of people say it’s the bakery’s new lead baker that’s so masterfully brought this place back up into the public eye, a baker that doesn’t like the public eye and thus has never had an interview. What? Has nobody ever even tried to break in? I land just outside on the docking bay where I guess they must unload all their flour and sugar and whatnot. They’ve got a combination lock- a combination lock. I’m insulted. My laser bolt cuts make quick work of it and I manage to lift the door just enough as to not make so much noise and wiggle my way in.

I hear people in the front room, trying to haggle the price of an almost day-old cannoli but it’s surprisingly quite back here. I mean, I know that it’s close to closing time but wouldn’t some people be runnin’ about trying to get their last orders filled? I shrug and continue on. In and out with the cake, that’s all I need. Turns out that the kitchen one door down from the loading bay. There’s someone in there for sure, I can hear them humming, so I open the door just a crack to get a peek and see what I’m up against.

Icing squirts out of two of its fingers, creating two separate rings of  decoration on the outer lip and middle of the cake. It does this without even turning the cake on a lazy susan because its elbow just turns in the socket with such automated swiftness I almost missed it. When it’s done it spreads its fingers out so that a thin lining of metal can connect the fingers together forming a kind of spatula to smooth out the frosting on the sides. Its face is a black screen with big, yellow, digitized eyes inspecting its work closely. Then a small smile forms on the screen below the eyes. Its happy with its creation.

My mouth falls open. A robot is the lead baker? I must be leaning against the door to much because it opens just a little more and the fucking thing squeaks. The robot turns its head toward me with a surprised look on its digital face.

“Can UB help you, human?” it asks.

Must Be This Tall to Ride, Part 3

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Artino looked up at the Altairian with the gun and realized that he was tall for one of his kind. Maybe even three and a half feet even without the head scarf. He’d noticed so little about him before but now he, like everyone on the bus, was very interested in what might be going on inside the shooter’s mind.

Even the man who he’d shot was looking up at him, his eyes glazed over with the pain of his wound but with his brow furrowed in confusion. The idea that a Stump might have shot him, might have hurt him, seemed to confuse him as much as anything.

For a moment Artino wondered if the tears running down the human’s face were as much to do with that quandary as with the spreading pool of blood. He pushed that thought away though. The only thing to worry about now was trying to salvage the situation and possibly save his own life, as well as those of his family back home.

“My name is Artino.”

The words felt flat and stilted, even in the deep baritone of his kind, but he armed them with every bit of friendliness he could. The other Altairian looked at him again then and said, “I cannot tell you my name but you may call me Fighter.”

“Fighter.” Artino let the word roll off of his tongue and hoped that his nervousness was well hidden. He had never seen the blood of a human in person and the stench was overwhelming to his sensitive nostrils. “Why is today going to be a glorious day?”

He immediately regretted the words as he saw the face of the Fighter light up in enthusiasm.

“Today will be a glorious day for many reasons.” He paused and Artino could see his eyes narrowing in a fit of rage as his four shoulders arched backward. “Today will be the day that the Freedom Fighters of Altair show how strong we are and how strong we will be.”

And suddenly every person on the bus, human and alien, locked eyes on the one calling himself Fighter, searching in his eyes for a vague hope that the day might not end with all of their deaths.

“Listen well, Whistles.” The derogatory word for humans came out with such violence from the Fighter’s face that Artino started. He’d never heard anyone use the word in the presence of one from Earth, though he imagined they all knew what the word meant. “You have taken everything we have and given nothing back. Our technology, which we offered in peace, and our culture. You mix our homeland’s music with the horrible noises you call entertainment and you have fattened yourselves off the plant altering techniques we brought, but what have we gotten in return?”

He paused for effect and waved the gun in air above him before noticing that the bus was slowing down and that the driver was looking back at him as well. The barrel of the pistol came across the side of her head then and the pierce of her scream followed the small spray of blood to the back of her seat. The Fighter though, seemed to have calculated the pressure of his strike and she continued to drive, though whimpering all the while.

“We scrub your toilets and we build your terrible junk products which are too dangerous for your own weak bodies. We work for you for nothing and always under the fear that we might offend. You have turned us into slaves, but no more.”

Artino noticed the blue and red lights then, circling the bus. It seemed the driver had pushed the emergency alarm after all, though the Fighter seemed to ignore it.

“But now, now we shall–”

The man on the floor interrupted him then, his words falling from his lips as gasps of breath but loud enough to stop the Altairian.

“You won’t do shit. You’re just a bunch of weak willed little piss ants.” The man took a deep breath and tried to lift himself against one of the seats, only to fall back into the puddle of blood beneath him with a grunt.

“You dumb little fucks couldn’t do anything with that tech anyway, dying fast as you do. We’ve done you a favor and if any of these assholes in the back of the bus had any balls they’d take you down now. What’s the world coming to that we’re letting goddamn Stumps talk to us like this. . .”

The Fighter lifted the pistol then and pointed it toward the forehead of the man, barely three feet away. The man’s eyes were not on it though; he examined his knee, seemingly for the first time as he trailed off and the tall Antairian tensed.

Between his gun and the body of the human suddenly stood the body of Artino, as surprising to himself as to any other on the bus.

“No. This is not the way to do it.”

The Hill, Part 3

bernicons8:49 pm

“Stop! W-what are you doing?” Jasmine’s voice shuttered.

One of the women snipped away at Mausmi’s hair. “We need this, for the Mistress.”

“What Mistress?!” Thunder rang outside. Another woman slapped Jasmine across the face.

“The Mistress compels us, we must do as she bids.”

“We must do as she bids,” echoed the hollow voices of the other women in the cave. From Jasmine’s count, there were four of them, each with their own hound at their side. At the far end of the cave there was an altar of some sort, a menagerie of blue and purple candles lead up to the space, with more and more candles huddled around the main table. When Jasmine had become too restless, they pulled her away from Mausmi and turned her away from the altar. They said she was no worthy.

“We have your vessel, Mistress!” sang the first woman, “Your faithful have provided!” Jasmine could not see what the women were doing with Mausmi’s hair at the altar. They were working with fire and a perfumed smoke. Another poured oil about the altar. None of them were looking at Jasmine.

Which she used to her advantage. She was sore and there were certainly bruises crawling up her arms, but still, Jasmine reached for a single purple almost beyond the reach of her bound wrists. Jasmine’s eyes darted back and forth from the candle and the altar she could barely glance at in the corner of her eye. The perfumed smoke masked the smell of burning rope and the chanting women covered her grunts of exertion.

“Mistress! Fill this empty cup! Be released from your heavenly prison on this night! Walk among us once more!”

Mausmi jerked up and cried out toward the ceiling. The four women held hands and kept themselves from focused on altar, singing their horrid song. Mausmi’s head went limp on her shoulder.

The bounds were burned through, and Jasmine kicked her legs free. “Hey bitches!” She shouted. She swiped the candle and threw it at the altar where the fire consumed them.

 

9:23pm

Mausmi’s body stopped in mid air, inches from the unforgiving bark of the tree and hovered here, engulfed in a pale blue glow.

“B-baby?” whispered Jasmine.

Mausmi’s eyes flew open, glowing in the same blue glow that surrounded her. Her body sung itself upright and she flexed her hands, inspecting them closely. “Yes,” said Mausmi in a voice that was not her own. “This will do.

Jasmine squirmed in the mud but then cried out as the pain jolted up her leg from her ankle. This caught the attention of the glowing Mausmi. She stepped forward, but her feet never touched the ground, her head tilted slightly as she studied Jasmine with a quisitive brow. “You are not one of the faithful.”

“The faithful!?” spat Jasmine, “I hope they all burned alive in that hell-hole!”

The glowing Mausmi looked up, seeing the smoke from the cave. “They are all but dead. Pity.”

Jasmine could hardly keep up with her breath. “I’m glad! Go with them for all I care! Just give me back my Mausmi!”

A glowing hand reached out and grasped Jasmine’s throat. Keeping up with her own breath wasn’t the problem now, having breath was. She was lifted from the earth, the glowing Mausmi’s hand gripping tighter and tighter the higher she was. Tears ran down Jasmine’s hot cheeks, but she could not struggle, she hurt too much to try.

Then the grip loosened and Jasmine was lowered, gently to the ground. Jasmine was confused, searching for an answer in the glowing eyes. “This body does not wish you dead. Curious.”

“Mausmi?”

A Mind Is a Terrible Thing, Part 3

kellyiconJackson checked his watch for the fifth time in a half-hour.

“You’re sure this is the right time?” he asked.

“I’m positive,” Madeline said, though she felt nothing of the sort. She was sure she had heard the voice tell her to meet at the park at three in the afternoon, but heard wasn’t the right term at all, was it? Someone had sent her a telepathic message in a coffee shop, and here she was, hopeful at meeting someone like her – thank god, she wasn’t the only one – and nervous that he or she would turn out to be an evil super villain or something. Weren’t telepaths usually super villains?

“No,” Jackson said when she asked him. He was still scanning the park as if he could spot the other telepath by sight alone. “Professor X is a telepath, remember? So is Jean Grey.”

“Didn’t she eat a planet?”

“No, that was the Phoenix Force. Kind of. Look, there are plenty of heroes who are telepaths.” Jackson took her hand and squeezed it. “Don’t worry, Maddie. Chances are this person is just like you – excited to meet someone else with your kind of power.”

“Right,” Madeline said, and squeezed his hand back. “Thanks.”

You guys are cute.

“Ah!”

Madeline jumped from the park bench, sending their bags tumbling to the grass. Jackson jumped up beside her, looking this way and that. Madeline concentrated harder than she ever had, hoping that her frustration would carry over with her words.

Where are you? This isn’t funny anymore!

Okay, okay! Sorry! The voice sounded genuinely sorry, and Madeline softened a bit. I’m actually right in front of you. Look across the pond, on a bench – there! There I am!

Madeline had followed the voice’s instructions until she spotted someone waving from across the pond. It looked like a woman, a little older than her, with dark skin, and long, wavy brown hair done up in a loose ponytail. She was wearing a long, loose skirt, a spagetti-strap top, and the most marvelous, bright blue, large-rimmed hat Madeline had ever seen.

Madeline grabbed Jackson’s hand, who himself only managed to grab their bags from where they had fallen, and sent off down the path that led to the other side of the lake. She wove in between young couples and families with babies in strollers as fast as she could, tugging so hard on Jackson’s arm she could feel it pulling at his shoulder.

“Hi, there!” The woman smiled down at Madeline as she and Jackson struggled to catch their breath.

“Hi,” Madeline panted back.

“Sorry about all the games,” the woman said. “I just couldn’t help myself. Also, I wanted to check out for myself what kind of person you were before I met you. My name is Sabine.”

“I’m Madeline, and this is Jackson.”

Jackson, still bent over trying to catch his breath, gave a little wave.

“So you’re…just like me? You can read minds, too?” Madeline asked.

“Sure can!” Sabine said. “As far back as I can remember. I was told there were others out there like me, but you’re the first I’ve met. Here, sit!” Sabine swept aside her books (thick, heavy ones that said things like Advanced Physics on them. Maybe she was a grad student?) and patted the seat. Madeline sat down, and as soon as she looked into Sabine friendly, brown eyes, a well of emotion overcame her. Tears formed in the corners of her eyes, and it was all she could do to stifle a sniffle.

“What’s wrong?” Sabine asked, those big eyes full of concern.

“I thought I was the only one,” Madeline said. Now the sobs came out in full force, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I thought I was the only one like this.”

“Oh, baby.” Sabine put an arm around her shoulders and drew Madeline into a hug. “You’re not alone anymore.”

The Hill, Part 2

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5:36pm

The woman just stared back at Jasmine, not as if her gaze were looking through her but as if her eyes were looking around her. As if whatever Jasmine meant to the woman was something not even worthy of her sight or her notice, though notice she did. Her lips didn’t move though and for a moment Jasmine began to think maybe she hadn’t heard. She did look to be older; perhaps she was deaf or suffering dementia.

“I said, hey there, friend.”

The woman blinked then, and that was all. Staring back at her the younger woman kept expecting to see some sort of acknowledgment or response but instead there was only the soft dull gaze of the woman’s eyes. Watching her face she saw that the woman was indeed old, grotesquely so, and that her eyes, while numb, were of a milky soft blue color. Her eyes, sunken down in her gaunt cheeks, were hard to look away from but when Jasmine managed to she saw that the woman was gaunt in other ways as well. Her old clothes hung off of her in awkward places and she wondered that woman might be dying. She seemed to stand on her own though.

“Excuse me, my name is Jasmine and this is Mausmi. We’re visiting from the city.”

Jasmine nervously spoke again to the woman, trying to find in her eyes some sort of connection. She could feel Mausmi stir next to her and could somehow sense the fear in her and the goose bumps rising underneath the hand her arm. Mausmi stayed silent though and looking toward her Jasmine saw that her eyes were not on the woman but behind her. In the distance was another woman, also with a hound at her side. A gray, old hound, panting and watching with the same numb eyes as the woman nearer to them.

But no, the dog’s eyes were not numb, and on looking at the nearer hound it’s eyes were neither clouded nor dull. The were wide and full of intelligence, scanning over both their bodies, the hound’s eyebrows jumping at each sniff and pant. It was almost as if the dog were leading the woman and not the other way round.

“I’m sorry, I hope this isn’t your property. We just saw the hill and. . .

Jasmine looked away from those black dog eyes and trailed off though as she felt Mausmi tugging at her arm and heard the soft whimper that escaped her lover’s lips. Looking down at her she saw wide eyes and quivering lips and following Mausmi’s gaze over her shoulder she saw that behind them was another woman, old and gaunt, and leading a big gray hound like the ones before them.

As Mausmi’s finger raised to point in a new direction she saw too that there were more. Many more.

7:08pm

The rough texture of the pine straw beneath her came as a shock when Jasmine woke up and sitting upright quickly she clutched her forehead at the pain which suddenly came. Pulling her hand away she could see that there were dried flakes of blood and a long streak of wet on her fingers. She could feel the matted curly hair on her right temple and started to remember things about the past few hours. Little things at first as she clutched both hands to her face and covered her eyes, keeping them closed as tightly as she could manage.

“Mausmi!”

Pulling her hands away and looking around quickly it occurred to her how little light there was in this small space. Wondering how long she might’ve been out she grasped around through the straw and found little slivers of strange hard things before finally letting her eyes adjust to the dim light and seeing the small, huddled shape of Mausmi in the corner.

Rushing there, she pulled her onto her back and looked at her face to see no visible wounds or markings and began to shake her gently, whispering her name as feverishly as she could.

“Mausmi baby, please wake up. Please.”

After a few moments Jasmine put her head down on her lover’s chest and felt the gentle rise and fall of her lungs. Soon tears left streaks down the grime on her face as well as blood.

Finally though, looking up from the girl in desperation though, she noticed the room they were in, if one could call it a room. Possibly eight feet on a side, she couldn’t see any discernible doors but there was the dry straw beneath them and the strange little hard chunks she finding throughout it. A persistent thought in the back of her mind kept her from examining any too closely though, and so she looked again to Mausmi’s gently rising chest and her softly quivering lips.

In the distance the rain began to fall and the walls of their box shook with the roar of thunder.

Must Be This Tall to Ride, Part 2

kellyicon“Now, listen. You’re going to let me on this bus, then you’re going to sit down and drive like nothing’s wrong. Understand?”

Between the beads of sweat breaking out along the bus driver’s brow and the way her eyes locked onto the barrel of the gun pressing into her cheek, Artino doubted the bus driver had understood anything the young Altairian had said at all. A nervous murmur rippled throughout the bus. Was this for real? Artino could hardly believe it himself. It was illegal for Altairians to own weapons. Any human caught selling them faced imprisonment; any Altairians caught selling or owning a gun faced the rope.

Fear gripped Artino’s stomach like a vice. If the humans managed to take that gun away, there would be no arrest and no trial. His family would find his body in a ditch on the side of the road.

“What is this, some kind of joke?”

A square-jawed man with clipped blond hair rose from his seat and strode toward the front of the bus. The young Altairian eyed him warily, but the gun remained firmly planted into the cheek of the bus driver.

“This is some kind of alien rights shit, isn’t it?” The man stopped just short of Artino, towering over them with his six feet of height. “If it is, you can take your little toy gun and march your stump ass right out of here. If you’re so damn angry about the life we let you live on Earth, just go back to your own fucking planet.”

The air in front of Artino exploded. That was the only way to describe it. One second the man was towering over them, hand raised as if he was about to strike one of them; the next, there was a sound next to his ear so loud it pierced his ear drums like a knife, and the man was one the floor, screaming and cursing and gripping his bleeding knee. The murmur turned into a chorus of screams as the humans in the front seats rose and tried to flee to the back; all three dozen human clustered around the back few rows of seats like a flock of sheep threatened by an angry dog. Blood flowed in rivets from the man’s knee, following the slight slope of the bus floor until a shallow pool of blood formed around Artino’s feet.

“Any of you try anything else, and you’ll end up worse than him,” the Altairian said. He turned back toward to the bus driver, who had fallen back in her seat and given over to panicked blubbering, tears and snot dripping off her chin as she begged him not to kill her.

“Drive. Drive until you reach the Capitol building. You stop for anything, I’ll shoot you and do it myself.”

The bus driver complied, and the doors closed behind Artino with a swoosh. The engined revved and the bus eased out of the station and onto the highway, gliding swift and silent toward disaster.

Inside, the bus was full with the sounds of whimpers and sobs. The man who threatened them had finally stopped screaming, but started to let out a low, continuous moan as he doubled up over his knee. It occurred to Artino that he should have left when he had the chance, should have jumped out the doors before they had closed, should have never stepped out of bounds in the first place, but all he could focus on was the blood. Everything other thought in his head seemed vague and muted in comparison, like hearing someone shout from the other side of a closed window.

Next to him, the Altairian slipped a small, square contraption from his coat. He flicked a switch and a small display lit up and began to count down. He turned to Artino and smiled.

“Never fear, brother. Today is a glorious day.”

A Mind is a Terrible Thing, Part 2

bernicons            The voice sliced through the chaos like a hot knife through butter. Madeline stiffened up, whipping her eyes all over the cafe. No one was looking at her, safe for the little poodle tied up to a lady’s chair outside.

Heh, no. Not the dog.

Madeline closed her eyes and took a deep breath, like her therapist taught her. Calming her mind, slowly peeling back every layer until it was just her. She opened her eyes. Where are you?

In the cafe, like you. I’m rather surprised. You’re not at all what I pictured in a fellow telepath.

            Madeline could barely keep her heart from fluttering out of her chest. How do you mean?

            Well, you’re nothing like me.

            Madeline’s brow furrowed. How so?

You’ll see.

A man, maybe a year or two older than Madeline stood up and Madeline caught her breath in mid gasp. He was tall, with spiky black hair and light, gray eyes set in a thin face with a strong chin. He caught Madeline’s eye and gave her a grin before pulling on his green jacket. He walked over to leave his mug in the dirty dishes bin and walked toward Madeline.

Madeline’s heart was stuck in her throat, she barely knew what to say. She finally released her clenched fingers and reached out to shake his hand.

Not quite.

The man stepped past Madeline in favor of the threshold of the front door. He glanced over at Madeline’s extended hand but with a quick shake of her head, she withdrew and smiled nervously to cover her embarrassment in vain. The man was bewildered and thought Madeline was a little bizarre.

Hahaha!

Face flushed red, Madeline snapped her head toward the cafe crowd again, searching for anyone that might be visibly giggling. Her eyes narrowed at a single pair of shoulders convulsing joyously about three tables down from her. She stood up and marched toward that person, with the pastel yellow cardigan and back towards her.

“Madeline?” She’d past by Jackson holding their drink as she made her crusade forward. She reached her hand out.

Wait, no! Don’t!

Choosing to obey her rage, Madeline pulled the chair back so she could see the face over her aggressor- and then the anger fell as quickly as it was kindled. The woman had a young face, though flat and wide, with a flat-bridged nose and slightly slanted, warm brown eyes. Her black hair was kept neatly, in a pretty circular pattern, set in by cornrows. Her tongue hung out slightly from the corner of her frowning mouth.

Can I help you?” came another voice. Mouth agape, Madeline looked up to the other side of the table where another young woman sat.

Madeline’s mouth was still open, but she could barely make a sound.

Wrinkles formed on the woman’s brow, too many for her age. “Did you just march yourself over here to gawk at my sister?” She stood up, towering over Madeline. “Yes. She has Down syndrome, and isn’t hard enough without people like you making a scene of it.”

  1. The woman in the yellow cardigan could barely make an audible sound and tried to wave her arm, signaling her sister to sit, to calm down. She didn’t pay attention.

“I-I’m so sorry,” was all Madeline managed to blurt out.

“Yeah? Isn’t that nice,” the woman turned to the counter. “Can I speak to the manager please? I’m not standing for this kind of harassment.”

A hand grasped Madeline’s arm. “Hey there, I’m very sorry about that.” It was Jackson. “My girlfriend hasn’t taken her medicine yet today. She’s very compulsive otherwise.”

“Medicine?” the woman asked, unconvinced.

“Yes, see we were supposed to get it earlier today but the pharmacy hadn’t filled it yet and we came here while we waited,” he explained. “She’s not normally like this, I promise.”

She crossed her arms and frowned, glaring at Madeline. “Just keep your goddamn hands to yourself. Okay?”

Madeline nodded to so quickly, the tears that rested at the brink of her eyes leapt from her face into the air. Jackson nodded apologetically. “Thank you, we’ll leave now. Thank you.”

Jackson turned Madeline around and brought them out the door, but not before she heard the voice again. Look, we’ll be at Washington Park tomorrow afternoon. I’d like to talk more then.

The feeling hadn’t quite returned to Madeline’s being after that bout of shock, but she managed a reply. Yes. Yes of course.

Must Be This Tall to Ride, Part 1

raboicons

The Number 14A was late. The Number 14A was always late.

Artino had taken to calling it the “Number Late-Teen A” in his thoughts but the extra twenty minute wait at the stop honestly wasn’t the worst thing in the world. He always left an hour early, just in case, and the extra time to himself was always a nice reprieve from the twelve hour shifts and the monotony of home. Still, it would be nice if the bus could come on time, at least once this millennium.

But today it wasn’t and after an hour and ten minutes Artino was starting to get a little antsy. If he showed up more than fifteen minutes late at the office they would dock his day’s pay and still expect him to finish the shift. Not only that, he’d have to speed through cleaning the first two floor’s bathrooms and bins. Not something he ever looked forward to, though doing it faster wasn’t that much harder than doing it slow.

If only there were jobs closer to home; the only work for Altairians was in the city as cleaners, janitors, dishwashers, and bellboys and that meant taking the bus. No one would hire one for anything else, especially out in the suburbs and honestly, the work was pretty well suited to his kind, if degrading. Standing about three feet tall on average, their race had fallen right into the roles of servants since they’d landed on Earth thirty years ago. Not that any of those from that first wave were left alive, what with their lifespans lasting only fifteen to twenty of the local’s years.

Scratching his left hind ear Artino thought of his grandfather Marcina, one of the original scouts for the first landing ships. He remembered how the old one would complain endlessly of the life they’d found here. He’d talk all day about how desperate the command crew of the massive generation ship had been and how they’d picked this planet as the only inhabitable one in range as the stocks ran low. Of course even that had been many generations before grandpa; at least 100 of the Earth years.

Second Grandmother Icknaria, though, would always stop him and say how grateful they should be that the humans had taken them in at all, what with their desperation, but then First Grandmother Asnap would scream and yell and flap her four arms about how this was no heaven, how they were all slaves, etc. etc.

Sometimes Artino was glad the old cunt was dead.

Number 14A Bus is canceled for the next two cycles due to mechanical difficulties.”

The words started to scroll across the top of the stop as Artino was lost in sight and on the second pass he noticed them, only to stand with attention. If the bus was canceled he would not only loose his pay for the shift but he would end up being docked for the week. An entire week without pay would mean he, his three parents, two di-wives, and six children would go without food for the meantime.

Two other Arturians stood up at the same time and began to fidget nervously, edging closer to the electric rails which the buses rode on, eyeing each other and looking up at the sky as if the weather might somehow affect the bus schedules. The weather on their home world, though no Arturian had seen it in millions of their own years, had harsh enough weather to imprint on their instincts even now.

Looking to his right he noticed that one of the others on the platform was dressed a little shabbier than those who were obviously here on their way to work. That one was dressed in the same humanistic clothes as the rest of them but his were festooned with little splashes of color and a head scarf of brilliant red geometric patterns. The styles of their home world were catching on with a part of the youth, Artino had heard, especially those in the new movement for Arturian rights.

What ones weren’t imprisoned or “disappeared” by the humans.

The Number 14 bus though, rolled right in on time as they fidgeted and when it did the couple of humans waiting patiently on their own bench stood up and started to walk toward it, making a point to not look down at the aliens or notice their presence at all, much less their anxiety.

Artino looked at the screen on the side of the bus emblazoned with number 14 and the time, doing the math in his head as he figured that if he could somehow take this bus he would make it on time to work, but barely. Of course he wouldn’t be allowed on the 14 bus proper, that was only for humans, but maybe they would listen to his plight. Maybe this once, he’d even pay double the Arturian fair. Surely they’d take that since the human buses were free.

Rushing toward the door as it whooshed open he stood behind the two humans and after each walked aboard he lifted his small left feet to put them upon the bottom step. Mid way through though, the bus driver, an older human woman with dark skin, stood up and shouted down at him.

“Hey, don’t y’all see the goddamn sign?”

Of course Artino saw it though, that sign that he’d seen so many times in so many variations. Must be this tall to ride, the words emblazoned in red against a marker at roughly three and a half feet.

“But I really have to get to work and I–” His voice the deep monotone of his race, was cut off by the woman before he could finish.

“Yeah yeah, and don’t be tellin’ me that shit. Sign say’s y’all can’t get on so back off before I call the cops.”

“But I–”

“Hey, stumps, let me tell you–”

And quicker than either one could register there was the one in the shabby clothes and the Arturian scarft between the two of them staring up at the woman on the steps with her angry eyes and shouting in the same deeply baritone voice as Artino, “Who you callin’ stumps, huh sec-mo fucker?”

“Y’all better back off ‘fore the cops get here. I just pushed the panic button and you. . .”

But she went silent when the other one’s second left arm came out holding the gun and reaching out toward her head with the barrel pressed nearly against her cheek.

“What now, whistle?”

 

A Mind Is a Terrible Thing, Part 1

kellyiconThe coffee shop was packed, and Madeline resisted the urge to back right out the door. People were everywhere: standing in line, talking and laughing with their neighbors or staring off into space while they waited for the person in front of them to decide on their order; people shuffling past one another, drinks held high in the air as they mumbled a chorus of sorry, excuse me; and all the while the baristas and cashiers bustled back and forth between the cappuccino machines, shouting out orders and filling cups as fast they could. Every table in sight was occupied by no less than a half-dozen people laughing and chatting about their day. Just standing in the doorway, countless thoughts began to creep into Madeline’s mind, like a thousand whispers only she could hear.

Her heart caught in her throat, but she resisted the urge to flee. When she was younger, being in any place with more than a dozen people was torture; immediately their thoughts would fill her head and push out her own until her mind was nothing but a confused jumble of the emotions and anxieties of strangers. She could still remember her mother holding her, begging her to explain what was wrong while Madeline curled into a ball and pressed her hands to ears so hard her skin bruised.

That was a long time ago. Her parents, God bless them, never quit looking for answers, and after years of help from a professional telepath and a very open-minded therapist, she could even walk down a busy street like a normal girl enjoying her first year of college in a big city.

Madeline took a breath and focused her mental defenses, battling back the invading thoughts of others until her mind was relatively quiet. Rooms full of people were still a challenge. Heightened emotions and tensions built up in the air with no where to go, and fear and tension all but oozed from the walls of even the most laid-back of places. A coffee shop full of college kids on final exam week was like a powder keg of barely-repressed anxiety; typically a place Madeline avoided at all costs, but therapist wanted her to try feeling comfortable in busy places. Besides, it’s not like she’d be here long. Jackson just wanted to meet up and get some coffee before heading to the library. Jackson had been so understanding so far – for one, he didn’t run away or think she was crazy when she first told him about her powers, and so far he accepted she was just never going to be comfortable at parties or sporting events or midnight showings of popular movies. Waiting ten minutes in a crowded coffee shop was something she could do to show him it wasn’t always going to be constantly running away from anyplace fun.

Madeline took her first step over the threshold, then another. So far, so good. She took a few more small steps toward a small table in the corner, waiting for the rush of nausea and the hit-with-a-freight-train headache that always accompanied an onrush of other people’s thoughts, but her mind stayed blissfully quiet. Just another normal college girl killing time while waiting on her equally normal boyfriend.

“Babe, I’m so sorry,” Jackson said some twenty minutes later, swooping down to plant a kiss on her cheek. A grin lit up her face as she felt Jackson’s rush of affection for her. “If I’d known it was going to be so crowded, I’d of been here sooner.”

“It’s okay,” she said. “I feel pretty good, actually.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I think it’s like a muscle. The more I practice, the better I get at keeping it under control.”

“At this rate, you’ll be ready for the Super Bowl in no time.”

The thought of being stuck in a closed space with tens of thousands of drunk and excited people made Madeline want to gag, and Jackson laughed when he saw her face.

“Just kidding. I’ll go get the drinks, and then we can be on our way. Hey, you don’t think you can look into the future and see what my grade on my English final’s going to be, could you?”

“I’m a telepath, not a psychic, thank god. Can you imagine being able to see into the future all the time?”

“Honey, I can barely predict what I’m going to have for breakfast in mornings, let alone the future. Be right back.”

He slid off the stool and shuffled his way toward the line. Madeline rested her cheek against her palm and watched people walk, jog, and rush by the window, content to not know what any of them were thinking about. She could just about imagine a quiet future where she never had to know what another person was thinking ever again, where the terrors of her childhood would be far behind her.

Just as soon as she imagined that future, her peace of mind was shattered. The thought was like being struck by a bolt of lightning, and her whole body seized with the shock of it. Usually what she heard were half-formed and vague, more emotions than fully-formed thoughts. But this…this was a message, and it was aimed right at her.

You can hear me, can’t you? You’re just like me.